It can be a bit of a drag having a fairly uncommon name, sometimes. Not that I’ve ever wanted to change my name, or generally been unhappy with it, but it sometimes feels like it’d be nice to have a name that people understand straight away, and can’t later mispronounce. It’s ok in Ireland because even if it’s not the most common name, it’s still known by everybody. Even for English speakers from other countries, it’s not too difficult, as it’s a pretty simple sound common in English. Like smile, or while, or of course, Nile.
It’s trickier when I’m giving my name to non-English speakers. That /aɪ/ sound isn’t so common in many languages, especially in monosyllabic words. In fact, pronouncing monosyllabic words in general can be difficult for non-English speakers. They’re generally more common in English, but they can also be difficult to hear properly simply because they’re so short. When you’re listening to a word to try to understand it, you usually expect at least a second syllable, so when the word finishes after one, it’s surprising, and we don’t really take in the sound of the word. So I tend to get lots of two-syllable versions of my name, or the more common Neil. Which I also get a lot actually, understandably as it’s so much more common internationally. And that’s probably the one thing more frustrating than having an uncommon name: having a name similar to a more common one, which people will always call you by.
Which does tend to make you a bit protective of your name. We all are, really, it’s such an integral part of our identity. But working as an English teacher makes you realise what it’s like for non-English speakers having to deal with how English speakers deal with their names. Of course most of us try our best, but some names feature sounds that we don’t have in standard English, which are tricky for us to pronounce. And some names from European languages tend to be similar to English ones, or even look identical to them, so we tend to pronounce them in an English style. So non-English speakers living in an English-speaking environment tend to learn to adjust. For many Korean and Chinese speakers, this involves choosing an English name, as their original names can be so different from English names that we can struggle to pronounce them. Others might not need to go that far, but instead come up with a shorter, much easier-to-pronounce version of their name.
Which for most people is a pretty reasonable compromise, and it’s not like English doesn’t lack for shorter forms of lots of names. But of course that doesn’t really help me! Still, I’ve learned to become more relaxed if people don’t pronounce my name exactly as I do. And I’ve also learned to stop telling people it’s pronounced like the river in Egypt when I’m meeting a new class, as most languages don’t pronounce it like we do in English anyway.
How about you? Do people ever struggle with your name?